Reflections on Mexico

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Alisha

After spending 8 weeks in Mexico, we are leaving for Belize. I feel sad that we are leaving beautiful Mexico and all its colourful culture. Some people believe that the Spanish came to Mexico and discovered it but that is absolutely wrong. Loads and loads of people were here already. The Olmecs, Toltec, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mayans and Aztecs were all here first. They built great temples, palaces and cities. They had good schools and could write with hieroglyphics.

The beautiful traditional dresses that the ladies wear, a white dress with embroidered flowers are lovely. I liked the beaches and swimming in the underground cave (cenote).

The heat in Mexico is completely boiling but not all the places were hot, in Baja we had to wear raincoats on the beach. The food in Mexico is very spicy. I like the spices but sometimes it is too hot. My favourite is tortilla chips dipped in hot salsa.

A picture of a turtle like the one I released.

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Lucy

I think that Mexico is the most promising land in the world. They eat tortillas.

They are famous for pyramids. The most famous is called Chichen Itza. I wish Chichen Izta was perfectly normal, like it was when the Mayans were there, so we could see what it looked like. Chichen Itza, I think is cool, it is my favourite pyramid in the whole world.

The turtles were Olive Ridley ones and I loved them. You have to cover your hands in sand and then you can pick them up. At the end you release them, then you have to turn round the ones that were going the wrong way away from the sea.

We had a coconut to eat. It tasted yummy and I want to eat more of them.

My picture of a palm tree and coconuts.

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Gilly

We have loved Mexico and it has really been a wonderful experience being here.
Driving through the US we constantly heard negative comments about travelling here. Even people we met who had travelled extensively were concerned about us heading south of the border. We were well aware of the possible dangers and had researched the places we were visiting and the possible issues. So we weren’t heading into it naively. I think it affected how I felt about the country for the first few days in Baja and then on the mainland for a short period too. However, we were soon won over by the warmth of the people we met and we had no problems with feeling safe, once we had relaxed a bit.

There have been so many highlights from the deserted deserts of Baja, interesting fauna, the wonderful food, amazing ruins, beautiful beaches and fascinating towns. It really has been a varied destination with so many different things to see and do. Although we have seen so much in our 8 weeks here, I feel we could have easily stayed longer. My only small regret is that we didn’t spend more time in Mexico City. It was a last minute decision to go in for the day by bus from Teotihuacan but I wished we had stayed in a hotel there for a couple of nights. We could have gone to the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo galleries and museums in the south of the city and seen a lot more.

The size of the roads, especially through towns has been far more of a challenge than it was in the US and Canada. As for the topes (speed bumps) that are liberally sprinkled along most roads, they definitely require both of us to look out for them full time. However, I understand that Mexico is just the tip of the iceberg, we have far many, many, many more miles of topes to look forward to as we head further south.

Steve

After living for so long in Eastern Europe I have learnt not to believe all I read in the press so I was a little more circumspect regarding the Mexican horror stories. As it has turned out the people of Mexico have been wonderfully friendly and helpful (with the odd exception). Even some of the police have been helpful. When we were driving back through Tulum the other day the main road had been dug up so we went on a side street. The police stopped us to say we were not allowed on that street and I thought here we go again. But no the police motorcyclist told us to follow him and helped us through town and back onto the main road. It is a shame the press stories have had such an unnecessary damaging effect on Mexico as it is a great country to visit.

Mexico has been fantastic and so varied from the deserts in Baja, through the mountains and colonial towns to the ancient Mayan ruins and beaches. It has been fascinating and we have had a great time. The variety of scenery and culture has meant we have been constantly stimulated and the food has been just as varied. Whereas in Canada and the US we mostly cooked on the campfire, in Mexico we have been eating out nearly every day as the food has been so good and amazingly cheap. We have eaten everything from tacos, quesadillas, tamales and empanadas to more complicated meals such as Mole, Fazole and lots more.

In Mexico it has felt we are really travelling and we have settled into a rhythm. Driving has been more of a challenge in the towns and villages and at times I wished I was driving something smaller but when we stop it is perfect for the 4 of us in the back and we are used to all living together in the small space. This lifestyle must also be healthy. I have lost over 10kgs without even thinking about it. I am still enjoying my food and beers but must be eating healthier than before and am certainly more active. We are also managing with our Spanish although there is certainly room for improvement.

Meeting our neighbours and relaxing at our last Mexican stop

After leaving George and Anne’s we headed back to the beach side campsite at Tulum and spent the afternoon on the white sandy beach.

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That evening we had a surprise. A few months ago an American journalist had picked up our website and posted a short review of it on the Expedition Portal, a forum for Overland travellers. See http://www.expeditionportal.com/trip-report/2481-the-overland-family-goes-a-lap-around-the-globe.html. We did not know anything about this until we saw a surge of visitors to our website. We were then contacted by a Czech couple,Marek and Zuzana, with the comments “Did you live in Vilimovska in Prague? We think we used to walk past your truck parked in your drive”. Well we did live there, and it turns out Marek and Zuzana lived in the same street and were driving a van from New York to Patagonia.

We were just relaxing at the campsite in Tulum when Zuzana turned up and said “I think you are our neighbours from Prague”. What a small world. We lived in the same small street, both preparing for a big overland trip and we never knew each other. Anyway we had a lovely evening catching up with them over beers.

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From Tulum we headed to the lovely campsite, Yax Ha in Calderitas just outside Chetumal, close to the Mexican/Belize border. This was a lovely campsite with a great setting and we were able to park the truck right next to the sea. There was also a lovely swimming pool and a French family with 3 children for the girls to play with.

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We spent our weekend here relaxing, swimming in the pool and preparing for the border crossing. This meant eating up all our meat, vegetables and fruit. We also need to finish off the beers!

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And this was the view from our bed. Not a bad view to wake up to.

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Chichen Itza, Tulum and Friends

Heading further north east in Yucatan we came to one of the most famous Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza. We’ve found getting to ruins as soon as they open the best plan for us, before too many tourists arrive and before it gets too hot. This was particularly true at Chichen Itza, as it’s fame as one of the new wonders of the world and it’s proximity to Cancun made it really busy. Luckily we were already heading out after an interesting 3 hours taking in the impressive ruins, when the streams of big coaches started coming in.

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We were particularly impressed with the ball court and the main pyramid.

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The previous night we had camped in the grounds of a hotel. It was close to the road and what we had not realised was there was a festival going on in town. This meant that a lorry drove up and down the road blaring out disco music until 4am. What made it worse was that they only played 2 songs all night. So we changed our plan to sleep there another night.

Feeling very hot and sticky after visiting the ruins and not wanting to have another night of disco music we headed off and thought our lunch spot should be at a cenote (underground lake) near Coba. The entrance to the cave looked like a well with a spiral staircase heading down into the gloom. Amazingly when we got underground it opened up into a large cavern with some light and roots coming through from the jungle above. The water was cool, crystal clear and well lit, so you could see all cave formation below. There was a large submerged wooden platform just over a metre deep, you could then swim off to deeper parts if you wished.

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We’ve been seeing pilgrims for the Virgin of Guadeloupe over the last few days. She is the patron saint of Mexico and is celebrated on the 12th December. Initially we thought the groups of mostly teenage boys were cycling to Mexico City to where her main church is located but many are actually doing local pilgrimages. I always thought pilgrimages were a time for quiet reflection of the saint’s virtues but these groups usually have a car alarm siren, you know the one that have a series of different alarms in series, and flashing orange lights on the back of their bikes. They had added to the cacophony created by the disco lorry the night before.

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We camped that night next to a beautiful white powder beach at Tulum.

The following morning we set off early again to see the ruins at Tulum. It was just 10 minutes walk from where we were camped. Although the ruins are smaller and less impressive than all the ones we have seen already it is the location that is stunning. Perched on top of a small cliff above an azure sea, it really is a breathtaking sight.

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We headed a short distance north to catch up with one of Steve’s old colleagues George and his wife Anne. They have a lovely house and were very welcoming. Even when we realised a few hours after arriving that we’d bought a whole host of extra guests with us! I was mortified to find that the girls had nits when I washed their hair that night. Even writing about it makes me want to scratch. George and Anne were wonderfully relaxed about it, they took Steve to the pharmacy for the lotion, let us use loads of hot water to treat the whole family just in case and washed all our bedding. I felt like that we were the worst house guests ever. Hopefully the little buggers have gone now, we’ve no idea where they got them from but Alisha has a theory that Lucy picked them up from Santa when she hugged him in Merida last week.
As you see we had rather a lot of hair to treat! I’m just hoping that this is the only time she gets them.

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We had a lovely time relaxing at George and Anne’s, spending time catching up and taking nice walks on the beach. We were also treated to some wonderful food.

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Looking forward to our last few days on the beach in Mexico before Belize we started to head south. However as we were leaving the guarded complex that they have a house in we had an “incident”. As we were going through the boom gate at the exit we asked the guards to open both gates as it was such a squeeze, there were 2 gates across the road as it was so wide. The lazy guard couldn’t be bothered to walk over and manually open the second one, so he waved that we should proceed through and that we had enough space on both sides, which we did. However, the pause in asking meant that the boom gate timed out and came down on the back of truck, obviously it didn’t have an automatic sensor working. We stopped to find out what the damage was to us and were relieved to find none. However then the guards started going on about the damage to their boom gate. “What!?!? Your gate crashed into us, when you were waving us forward and we have damaged your gate ?!?!?” Steve remarkably kept his cool but it started to get very complicated from there. The gate had a slight dent in the bottom end, like it had been pushed slightly forward. They were claiming initially that Steve had crashed into the gate while it was stationary but there was no physical way that he could have, as he would have taken out their guard hut at the same time. More guards came, then the boss. We phoned Anne and George who came with her brother Richard who is a long term resident and a fluent Spanish speaker. He was wonderful and tried to help smooth things out. Then the police turned up, and then two more police cars. In the end, neither the security guards or the police were interested in what they saw on the CCTV footage or what had actually happened. So we ended up paying for the gate regardless of whose fault it was. Then the police tried to fine Steve for reckless driving…. it was all sorted out in the end.